Mistrial called in case of killing in LaPlace neighborhood
Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2008
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – A district court judge has declared a mistrial in a 2005 murder case against a LaPlace man who allegedly shot and killed a Greenwood Drive resident after an argument over a broken windshield and speeding down a residential street.
Judge Mary Hotard Becnel declared a hung jury in the case against Kenchristopher Hilson, 25, because there were not enough votes from the jury to convict him in the shooting death of Donald Guarino, 26. The jury deliberated for seven hours before coming back with the “no decision” in the case.
The incident in question occurred on July 9, 2005 when, witnesses say, a man hurled a beer bottle at an Oldsmobile Cutlass that was speeding down Greenwood Drive while numerous residents were outside at a party. The bottle broke the car’s windshield and ignited the altercation between Hilson, who was a passenger in the car, and Guarino.
Residents of the street said the shooting was the culmination of simmering frustration over speeding in the subdivision. It would originally lead to a community activist group and a neighborhood watch in the area.
Assistant District Attorney William O’Regan, who is prosecuting the case, objected to the hung jury decision, and would have liked the deliberation to carry on longer. He said the jury deliberated an additional hour and a half, but could not garner the 10 votes needed to convict. Only nine of the jurors voted guilty.
“I’m just frustrated after all that time and effort in the case,” said O’Regan. “It just seems like a lot was wasted.”
O’Regan said the state will retry the case in June, and he will remain the prosecutor.
David Belfield, Hilson’s attorney in the case, claims that his client fired in self-defense, and that the argument was racially motivated. He said witnesses recalled hearing racial slurs and curse words throughout the argument, and that his client handled himself reasonably based on the environment he walked into.
Belfield said the men in the car were speeding down the street to escape a carload of men who were chasing them. He said the car did not stop when the bottle was thrown, but returned when it was discovered that the windshield was broken. When Hilson returned to the area to find out who would pay for the damage, Guarino confronted him.
Witnesses on the scene that night said the argument went on for several minutes before Hilson produced a gun and fired on Guarino.
Belfield also claimed that racial tensions escalated further when St. John Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene. The first deputy on the scene, an African-American woman, testified in court that when she attempted to take Guarino’s pulse, she was told to get away from him because of her race. She said she was forced to produce a weapon to maintain order.
O’Regan argued this testimony was irrelevant because the deputy arrived after the murder took place, and that if she reacted how witnesses said she reacted, she made no attempts to shoot anyone present.
“No one reserves the right to kill another person because they were called a name,” said O’Regan.
O’Regan would not speculate as to the reasons for the hung jury, but said the issue of race should not matter.
“This is not a matter of identity,” said O’Regan. “The Sheriff’s Office obtained a confession from the shooter, and the men in the car pinpointed Hilson as the shooter. That should be enough.”